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The Prime Minister: We are in complete agreement about the basic principles here. The right hon. Gentleman says that the incursions by the Israeli defence forces should end without delay and that the Palestinian Authority must cease terror. That is right. The question is how we get people to a situation where that is likely to happen.

I totally understand why Israel feels, when its citizens are being subject to these appalling terrorist acts—acts of random violence, but with the specific purpose of doing as much damage to innocent civilians as possible—that it has to retaliate. My concern has always been—I have said this to the Israeli Prime Minister—that while I understand that, what is the strategy to get us from where we are at the moment to a different place?

In my view, the key is to make sure that we combine an overall long-term process—basing that on Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative seems sensible, since it recognises the two basic principles that most people now accept—with sufficient minimum security steps that re-engage the parties with some semblance of confidence.

That is very difficult, which is why I proposed some form of outside help. Of course, those involved could not do the work of policing terrorism. However, one of the things that the Israelis constantly say, with some justification, is that if the Palestinian Authority arrests suspected terrorists, they simply go through a revolving door; they are locked up, but then simply go back out again. One suggestion that I made earlier, and which remains, is that the international community could easily police the situation once those people are arrested and detained properly.

We have to look for imaginative ways of dealing with some of the key issues; otherwise, the suicide bombings will continue, the reprisals that the Israelis take will continue and the hatred and bitterness will get worse. One must ask how we have got to a stage where the bitterness is so deep that teenage Palestinians are wiring themselves up as suicide bombers and blowing themselves up. That is an indication of how deep the hatreds are. Unless there is a political vision that people can aim for, together with some minimum security steps, into the vacuum comes mindless and terrible violence, which is what we have at the moment.

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I totally understand the reluctance that Israel, in particular, has regarding the involvement of outside people. I also understand its frustration at the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not been, or was not, taking proper steps to deal with terrorism. In the end, however, unless the situation is to continue, with many innocent Palestinians dying as well, we have to find a way of unblocking the current situation and putting together the minimum security steps and the long-term process. Otherwise, I fear that the situation will get worse, and I do not think that people have yet contemplated quite how much worse it could get.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add our expressions of gratitude to all your colleagues and the House authorities for doing, with great dedication, such an efficient and characteristically courteous job with regard to the events attending the death and the funeral of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. We are all very grateful.

I am also grateful to the Prime Minister for having taken the decision to come to the House to make this statement and to take some questions. He is discussing a dangerous and deadly global situation. The loss of a British soldier from the first battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, killed accidentally yesterday in Kabul, brings home to all of us in the House just how dangerous these international commitments are for our service personnel.

The Prime Minister has reported back thus far in his discussions vis-à-vis Iraq. He will acknowledge that we must all be honest. This situation crosses the political spectrum—there is genuine unease in the Labour party, among the Liberal Democrats and perhaps in sections of the Conservative party. We must acknowledge that that unease is a reflection of genuine and sincerely held shades of opinion throughout the country. Therefore, as a result of his discussions with President Bush, will the Prime Minister acknowledge that no country can conduct a foreign policy on the basis of "my ally, right or wrong"? Although I am not implying that the Government are seeking to do so, there is a need for discernment. Many of us hope that the Government may be able to temper some of the ideas of the American Administration as the situation unfolds.

I welcome the fact that if decisions on Iraq have to be reached at some point in the future, the Prime Minister has confirmed that the House will have an opportunity to debate the matter fully. Will he confirm that if we reach that stage, incontrovertible evidence will be presented publicly, preferably at the level of the United Nations Security Council? That will be most important, not just for the legitimacy of any action under international law, but for maintaining a political consensus, not least with neighbouring Arab states. If the Prime Minister can continue to make a valued and valuable contribution in that direction, the whole House will thank him and his colleagues.

On the middle east and the appalling tragedy that is happening between Israel and the Palestinian people, we strongly support the Prime Minister. The Secretary- General of the United Nations has said that he is

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personally appalled by what is happening, and President Bush has called for Israeli withdrawal on three occasions. I hope that the Prime Minister will be assured that all parties in the House will join him in sending that signal to all the combatants involved. I hope that some sanity will be restored.

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that meeting force and violence with still more force and violence will never provide a solution? It does not even provide the framework for a solution. That signal must be sent with increased resonance, and this is a very good opportunity for us to do that.

The Prime Minister: I join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing our condolences to the family of the soldier who was killed yesterday in Afghanistan.

On Iraq, what is important is to put into play all the different issues that arise here. Some people will be against taking action in respect of Iraq no matter what it does, but I accept entirely that there are many people who are concerned, for example, whether that action will be sensible, whether it will have the backing of international law and whether proper thought has been given to the consequences for the wider region. Those are all perfectly sensible questions. All I say is that of course those are questions that we shall consider very carefully, which is why I have constantly said that we are not at the time of decision making.

In addition, most people would accept—again, not everyone, but the vast majority—that Saddam Hussein does lead a despicable regime, that he is a threat in respect of weapons of mass destruction and that it is important that we deal with that threat. Those are all the things that are in play in debating the issue. All I can say to people is that I hope that the way in which we have proceeded in respect of Afghanistan shows that we are prepared to proceed in a reasonable and measured way, consulting with key allies and not taking action precipitately. Again, we will not do that.

But it is the case that Saddam Hussein poses a threat. That is why the UN resolutions are there. If this was somebody who, in all the time that he had been leader of Iraq, had behaved responsibly, but we were worried about certain weapon systems that he was now developing, I could understand even more so the hesitation that people might have. But this is somebody who has a track record of absolutely extraordinary aggression on his neighbours, on his own people, on everyone that he sees advantage in being aggressive towards. That is why the UN resolutions are there. That is why British pilots are still flying over the no-fly zone in order to protect people in Iraq. That is why the inspectors went in, could not do their job properly and then came out.

I hope that in the same way as I understand the need to respond to the concerns that are being raised, others will understand the need to respond to the genuine concerns about Saddam Hussein and realise that in the end we can all respond to concerns but we have to take decisions on them. I can assure people that those decisions will be sensible and that the House will have a proper opportunity to debate them before we act upon them.

I have never taken the view that we support the US right or wrong. In relation to steel or an issue such as Kyoto we make it clear where we have a disagreement. But I do believe in this country's relationship with the

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United States. I do believe that that relationship is special and I do believe that it is a fundamental part of British foreign policy and should remain so. All I can say is that in my dealings with the Administration and with this President, we have found them immensely open and consultative, and where they have acted they have acted not just with consultation but in what I would regard as a sensible way.

Finally in relation to the middle east, of course we should send out the signals that we are sending out as the international community, but I come back to the point that I do not think that the signals are enough any more, because if the signals were going to work, they would have worked before now. What is necessary is to help both sides to sit down and plan a way through this. That cannot be done simply by leaving the situation as it is or by UN resolutions, although those are important. It has to be done by getting down to the detailed work in order to make sure that, step by step, we have the necessary measures that can allow us to find our way out of the current situation and to give the political process a chance to restart.


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